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Journal Article

Non-symbolic and symbolic notation in simple arithmetic differentially involve intraparietal sulcus and angular gyrus activity


Takashima,  Atsuko
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;
Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University, P.O. Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, The Netherlands;
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Van der Ven, F., Takashima, A., Segers, E., Fernández, G., & Verhoeven, L. (2016). Non-symbolic and symbolic notation in simple arithmetic differentially involve intraparietal sulcus and angular gyrus activity. Brain Research, 1643, 91-102.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002A-C633-2
Addition problems can be solved by mentally manipulating quantities for which the bilateral intraparietal sulcus (IPS) is likely recruited, or by retrieving the answer directly from fact memory in which the left angular gyrus (AG) and perisylvian areas may play a role. Mental addition is usually studied with problems presented in the Arabic notation (4+2), and less so with number words (four+two) or dots (:: +·.). In the present study, we investigated how the notation of numbers influences processing during simple mental arithmetic. Twenty-five highly educated participants performed simple arithmetic while their brain activity was recorded with functional magnetic resonance imaging. To reveal the effect of number notation, arithmetic problems were presented in a non-symbolic (Dots) or symbolic (Arabic; Words) notation. Furthermore, we asked whether IPS processing during mental arithmetic is magnitude specific or of a more general, visuospatial nature. To this end, we included perception and manipulation of non-magnitude formats (Colors; unfamiliar Japanese Characters). Increased IPS activity was observed, suggesting magnitude calculations during addition of non-symbolic numbers. In contrast, there was greater activity in the AG and perisylvian areas for symbolic compared to non-symbolic addition, suggesting increased verbal fact retrieval. Furthermore, IPS activity was not specific to processing of numerical magnitude but also present for non-magnitude stimuli that required mental visuospatial processing (Color-mixing; Character-memory measured by a delayed match-to-sample task). Together, our data suggest that simple non-symbolic sums are calculated using visual imagery, whereas answers for simple symbolic sums are retrieved from verbal memory.